Home News Student to file complaint with Quebec Human Rights Commission over frosh blackface incident

Student to file complaint with Quebec Human Rights Commission over frosh blackface incident

by The Concordian September 20, 2011
MONTREAL (CUP) — A McGill law student will be filing a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission after witnessing and recording the use of blackface at a frosh activity on Sept. 15.
Anthony Morgan explained he was walking by the Université de Montréal campus when he passed a group of students dressed in Jamaican colours and rasta style hats who were waving the Jamaican flag, chanting, “More weed, ya mon, ya mon!”
Morgan returned to film the incident and posted it on YouTube. He said that when he returned, someone pointed to him, saying, “We’ve got a real black person here.”
“I was just stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Morgan, who is of Jamaican descent. “It was very offensive.”
Blackface originated as a form of theatrical makeup in vaudeville to depict black characters, often propagating negative stereotypes.
The students were a group from HEC Montréal, the elite business school affiliated with Université de Montréal. According to a student representative, they were paying tribute to Jamaican sprinter and Olympian Usain Bolt.
HEC spokesman Michael Lartigau forwarded an email written by Frank Sciortino, a second-year student and a frosh organizer, to Canadian University Press. Sciortino explained that students had to choose an “ambassador” for an Olympics-themed activity. The group depicted in Morgan’s video selected Bolt and “decided to costume themselves” as the sprinter. Sciortino wrote it was not a racist act.
Morgan does not agree. “That is the part of it that is the most violently racist,” he said in response. “[Being black] is not a costume that you put on.
“Regardless of what the students intended, that is the problem right there,” Morgan continued. “It is wrong, it is a symbol of hatred and denigration. It should not be used in the way that it was used.”
Meanwhile, HEC is looking to turn the incident into a “learning experience.”
“The [student association] and HEC Montréal have jointly decided to offer the organizers of the different student activities a chance to participate in a training program on intercultural issues, as a way of ensuring that future student activities respect the different values of our increasingly multicultural world,” stated a release issued by the school, without explaining any further details.
“I don’t put the students themselves at fault,” said Morgan. He thinks that education is key to preventing incidents like this from occurring, and he hopes that a dialogue can be begin on what he considers “a greater problem about what we think about, how we value, how we understand, how we discuss — if we discuss — black history, culture and contribution.”
In fall 2010, a management students association at McGill put a halt to a frosh activity when accusations of cultural insensitivity were raised around its tribal theme. A promotional video showed students in costume and face paint, representing four different tribes: the Zulu, Maasai, Inca and Maori.
The incident at HEC has since been covered by news services around the world, including the UK’s Daily Mail.

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